This sermon is a response to the news that our Associate Pastor, Chris Brundage, will be leaving us at the end of May, and that at the same time we’re welcoming Chuck Hollandbeck, our new Director of Children’s and Youth Ministries, and his wife, Shannon.
Scripture Reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Who here is a founding member of this congregation? Anyone here think they’ll still be here when this church closes its doors some day?
The fact is, this church has been around a lot longer than any of us have been alive and, most likely, it’ll still be here when every one of us here breathe our last. I’ve often said—and some of you have heard me say it—for all the work that a lot of us have put into this church, and for all of our commitment to making it the best church possible, God has way more invested in well-being this congregation than any of us.
In the late 1820’s, when Adrian was formed, there was no Methodist Church in town. But God gave someone a vision of one being raised up, of starting one. At that time, John Janes was a Methodist Circuit Rider, and we know that from time to time he’d make the trip on horseback from Monroe to Adrian to hold “meetings” in peoples’ homes. Then in the spring of 1830—187 years ago—the Rev. Jacob Hill organized a Methodist Episcopal Church. You are the descendants of that original congregation, and together we’re the beneficiaries of their vision. God gave someone the vision for this church, and God will be here when we close our doors – long after you and I are gone.
The fact remains, God has a whole lot invested in this congregation, and in seeing that his will and purposes unfolds in Adrian in part through this congregation. You are and are just a part of it now, at this point in time. And when we’re gone, God will raise up new leaders in this church, and new leaders after that, and new leaders after that. To borrow a phrase from the film, The Lion King, it’s a kind of “circle of life.”
If you’re a guest here today, you’ve probably figured out by now that this congregation is facing some significant changes. This week we mailed out a communication that our Associate Pastor, Chris Brundage, has decided to fulfill a dream he’s had since seminary, and become a chaplain. Specifically, he’s going to be a hospice chaplain working for ProMedica. This, of course, means that he will be leaving us – at least in terms of employment. He most certainly will not be leaving us in spirit, as we will undoubtedly continue to hold him in prayer and forever be grateful for his fruitful ministry over the past nearly 16 years. Sunday, May 28, will be his final day with us.
When I was appointed her almost 3 years ago, it took me very little time to begin to appreciate Chris and everything he brings to our church. He has a very disarming, gentle presence. You can always count on him to listen, and listen well. He’s a man of few words, but when he does speak up, it’s always with wisdom and keen insight. Chris has a true servant’s heart, one that we could all learn to model ourselves after. That he’s moving into chaplaincy only reinforces what we already know about him, that he cares deeply about people. And, more specifically, about and for you.
I don’t need to tell you what you already know: Chris a gifted preacher. I can honestly say that every week he’s in the pulpit I learn something new, or gain a new insight, or I’m reminded about something I’d not thought about in a long time. And, as most of you appreciate, he’s able to say something worth remembering in a relatively brief amount of time. I’ve teased him that on the Sunday’s he preaches you all don’t get your money’s worth because we’re often done by 10:20!
And, as many of you know from personal experience, one area of giftedness for Chris is pastoral care. I don’t know how many funerals and memorial services Chris has presided over during his time here, but I know it’s a lot. But more important than the number of services he’s led has been his ministry to the families. His presence, prayers, and ability to simply sit with people have endeared Chris to all of us. He will undoubtedly be missed.
At the same time, it’s important for us to remember that Chris is a part of something much bigger than himself, something that God’s been doing, and will continue to do. And I’m only a part of that, too. As was my predecessor, Gary Dawes, and Reese Sharai before him, and Ken Tousley before him, and so on. In fact, all of these men you see on the screen [image of a framed collection of photographs of former pastors of this congregation] have been a part of what God’s been doing in our community through this congregation. And what I want you to notice are all the blank spots: pastor’s yet to come. Currently, my photo only has a starting date. But a day will come when an ending date will be tacked on, and a new picture of your next pastor will appear with a starting date. And at some point and ending date will added along with a new photograph. This is just how life rolls.
Because life is never static, endings are almost always balanced out with new beginnings Today we do both. On the day we’re officially announcing Chris’s move to new employment we’re also welcoming two new persons to our church family, staff, and to our community. Last week Chuck and Shannon Hollandbeck relocated from Coleman to Adrian, and on Wednesday Chuck started working here as our Dir. of Children’s and Youth Ministries. Shannon is working for the Adrian Boys and Girl Club.
Not only do we have a new staff member, but the position itself is new. After a considerable amount of time, prayer, and visioning, we created a new full-time position dedicated to ministry for our children, youth, and their families. But there’s something else that’s kind of new. Chuck was hired not only to minister to our own children and youth, but to help our church become a better bridge to the children and youth in our community at-large. This is in keeping with our mission to develop new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ.
So we welcome Chuck and Shannon with open arms. We’ll pray unceasingly for them as they establish themselves here and become a vital part of our community and church family. And at the same time, we prepare our hearts to bid farewell to Chris and his wife, Linda (who’s also an important part of our faith community). Some days are just like this.
And it’s been this way forever, as attested by the book Ecclesiastes.
King Solomon was an Old Testament king. He was the son of King David. David, as you may know, was the one who killed Goliath with a single stone. He grew into a great warrior for Israel, and eventually became king. In the words of the Bible, David was “a man after God’s own heart.” But even godly men make big mistakes. One of David’s was sleeping with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed so he could take Bathsheba as his own wife. Even so, God can take a terrible mistake and make something good come of it. In this case, that ‘good’ was Solomon. As Solomon grew up, it became clear to David that he had what was necessary to be a king. So before he died, David appointed Solomon, son of Bathsheba, to be the next king after him.
Solomon’s legacy is wide and varied. One part of his legacy is the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, one that we hardly ever read in worship. Today, however, I’ve chosen the most famous passage in the book for my message today. In fact, this passage was the basis of a very famous song written by Pete Seeger in 1950, and recorded in 1965 by The Byrds. You’ll know it as “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, written as a plea for world peace.
But here it is as written by Solomon. (Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
There’s a season for everything, and a time for every matter under the heavens. After which is a list of doings and undoings; a list of opposites. A time for giving birth and a time for dying. A time for mourning and a time for dancing. A time for war and a time for peace. And today we might add to this list, a time for saying good-bye and a time for saying hello.
You know what else we could add to this list? As it regards how we as a church live into our mission of developing new and maturing followers of Jesus Christ, we might also add this: A time for doing things a certain way and a time for changing the way we do things. Or, a time for doing things a certain way and time for doing things a different way.
Chris’s departure leaves a certain hole, if you will, in what we do and how we do it. No doubt, some of his pastoral responsibilities will be carried on by me. But other aspects of his leadership will need to be picked up by others. And by “others” I mean you! And, possibly, new new staff–but that’s down the line. But the truth is, some aspects of Chris’s leadership will need to be carried on by persons in this church. And fortunately, many of you have already been involved in the areas of his ministry—visitation and small group leadership are two of the most recent.
Now, there are other areas of our church life that are in transition as well. And so bearing in mind what I just suggested, it would be wise for us to keep in mind that just because we’ve done things a certain way doesn’t mean we’re going to continue doing them that way forever. Why? Well, in Solomon’s own words: there’s a time for tearing down and a time for building up. To some degree, right now we’re experiencing a kind of ‘tearing down’ so that things will be built up, and most likely, built up differently than before.
Here’s what we all know from personal experience: This “cycle of life” is rarely easy. It almost always hurts in some way or another. It can cause confusion and uncertainty. It can make us question whether or not we’re doing the right thing.
But there’s a verse in the book of Romans that should help us remember how God works. Romans 4:17 reminds us that our God “gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” As we move forward, discovering what God is doing among us, and leaning into doing ministry in new and creative ways, it’s helpful to remember that we don’t have to be able to know exactly how it’s going to turn out. Because the truth is, God is always recreating. And as a church, we’re called to give God the space to work his wonders among us. And to lead us down new paths. And to make something new of us that isn’t currently in place.
We are not who we were 50 years ago, or 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, or 1 year ago, or, in some way, even 1 week ago. We will not be the same a year from now, or 10 years from now, or 50 years from now. But one thing has remained and will remain constant through it all, and that’s God’s loving and transforming presence. The Holy Spirit continues to blow through the people called United Methodist right here in Adrian, Michigan. And nothing we can do or say will stop him from accomplishing his will and purposes.
Matthew 28 records what happened when Christ was with his disciples for the very last time before returning to his heavenly glory. This was literally the last time they would see him. And everything lay ahead of them—all of it unknown and overwhelming beyond what we can imagine. So in order to encourage them, here are the final words he spoke to them (as least, as recorded by Matthew): “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (v. 20).
Clearly, he was speaking to those eleven disciples gathered with him on the mountainside. But they weren’t his only audience. He was also speaking directly to US. His promise is for all followers throughout all times. I am surely with you always, right up to the very end.
As we move forward, with unknowns ahead, and new ways of doing things ahead, with new staff coming and existing staff departing, let’s keep this promise always before us. He who has more invested the well-being and future of this church than any of us ever will is with us, and goes before us. And has promised to never leave or forsake us. This is the good news for today.